Europe and world
economies are moving towards a knowledge based economy and a knowledge
society. This is the goal for Europe’s
2020 view of how the economy will operate.
Although Ireland is reaching its targets in education, inequalities
exist and have always existed. The
targets reached do not reflect the overall inclusivity of the education
system. This essay puts forward that a
Two Tiered system of education exists and is expanding in which the lower
classes are being left behind. It is
also put forward as to why the education system is central to the reproduction
of inequality within the context of cultural capital. We examine the Hidden Curriculum and its
impact on inequality as well as looking at a more activist theory of
reproduction in Willis’ (1977) “Learning to Labour”.
The Europe 2020 strategy was
designed to address the economic and financial crisis that had wiped out years
of economic and social progress, while also exposing what were considered to be
weaknesses in the economy of Europe. The
three main goals in the Europe 2020 paper were Smart Growth, Sustainable Growth
and Inclusive Growth. It is believed
that each person should have the opportunity to reach their educational potential
for personal, and economic reasons and education is a critical factor in
promoting social inclusion and economic development. Within the Inclusive Growth sphere, it is
noted that the EU has a goal to reduce school dropouts to under 10% and for 40%
of 30 year olds to have completed third level education. Ireland is over its target for third level
education with 52% of 30-34 year olds having attained a third level
education. Yet there is a great
disparity in where these people come from, places in Dublin like Ranelagh and
Dartry have a 99% rate of college progression (HEA, 2014) from schools whereas
students from less well off areas would have a college progression rate of
under 20% (Social Justice Ireland, 2015).
Inequalities exist if one person of a certain post code will almost
certainly succeed in the education system whereas another person in a less
desirable post code almost certainly will not.
This will be examined under a few sociological lenses.
The specific role of sociology of
education is to study the relationship between cultural reproduction and social
reproduction. This happens when it seeks
to determine the contribution made by the educational system to the
reproduction of the structure of power relationships between classes, by
contributing to the production of the structure of the distribution of cultural
capital among these classes. While
considerable progress has been made through the implementation of a wide range
of measures to address educational disadvantage, rates of educational
under-achievement and early school leaving remain much higher for pupils from
disadvantaged communities than for other pupils. This situation is a primary
motivating factor for the action now being taken. For example, children from
industry or farm worker families attain lower education than children from
higher social strata in all developed countries (Gambetta, 1987). In other
words, education is reproduced from generation to generation.
Lifelong Learning in the Knowledge Economy
Brine (2006) has
found that a two tiered system of education has formed in conjunction with the
EU’s knowledge economy. There is now a
marked gap between a high knowledge-skilled learner and a low knowledge-skilled
learner, ie, those in higher education (high knowledge skilled) and those in
further education (low knowledge skilled).
It is maintained that the low knowledge skilled workers are a problem
for the EU, as they are most likely to be marginalized within the system, these
include, ethnic minorities, long term unemployed and ex offenders. The failure to assimilate into society as a
whole places these low knowledge people as at risk to the high knowledge
society as well as the political and ruling classes. Brine (2006) maintains that this trend will
continue with adult and further education being a tool to marginalize the lower
class further. This unfortunately does
not fit in with the EU 2020 vision of
inclusive growth, in which education promotes a high employment economy
delivering social and territorial cohesion.
Learning to Labour
In Paul Willis’
important sociological book Learning to Labour, Working class jobs for Working
Class boys (Willis, 1977), he details the lives of 12 working class boys in their
second to last year in school. These
boys, who Willis refers to as ‘lads’ created their own counter school culture
within the school, seeing themselves as more authorative than their teachers. The whole purpose of school, in the ‘lads’
perspective was simply ‘to have a laff.
They did not see any merit in school attainment, they simply wanted to
leave school to become labourers.
Willis claimed that this counter
culture allowed ‘the lads’ to see through what the capitalist society demands
from them. Willis claims that the schools role in social reproduction is not merely
in some dominant and invincible institution, but also in cultural forms
produced by the lads in their resistance to the authority of the school
system. Lads who penetrate the uncertainty
of the relationship between teacher and pupil actually experience a sense of
power themselves. It is not therefore
the hidden curriculum of school structure which is most important rather the
hidden curriculum of pupil resistances which must be understood if the dynamic
of social and cultural reproduction can be explained (Lynch, 1989)
Bowles and Gintis (1976) put forward a theory
that education merely replaces the labour power in the economy. Bowles and Gintis found that schools
overarching reach was to teach students about discipline and hierarchy as part
of an obedient and submissive workforce.
They maintained that capitalism demanded a docile, fragmented and subservient
workforce. Creative thought is often
educated out of the students, with over 95% of students performing well at
creativity tests prior to going to school and this number diminishes as
students go through school eventually reaching under 10% (Robinson, 2006). It is postulated that creativity needs to be
eliminated to produce an obedient workforce.
The hidden curriculum dictates that students learn to accept curriculum
and syllabus without question, as well as accepting authority figures such as
teachers and principals. Just like in
the workforce, workers would be expected to accept work orders without question
and also accept their authority figure, their boss, without any question. The reward system also bears an uncanny
similarity, in the workforce, wages are rewards whereas in education
qualifications are used to entice performance.
The education system is also beginning to be used in order to make the
workforce desperate and in need of a job with lower wages with the increasing
of student debt upon students.
Cultural reproduction denotes the ways in
which schools help continue social and economic inequalities (Giddens, 2007). Schools reinforce variations in cultural
values and outlooks picked up in early life, when children leave school. The principal external purpose which the
school serves is cultural and social reproduction. Bordieu (1979) sees the education system as being directly
involved with the continuance of class inequalities. Bordieu also mentions habitus, habitus is a
system of schemes of thought, perception and action which reflects the material
and symbolic interests of the dominant class group. It allows them to make sense of the world The habitus of working class life is would be
quite different from that of middle and upper classes, yet it does not generate
the same cultural capital necessary for the success at school. Pupils from lower backgrounds learn very
quickly in school that their objective chances of success is low.